Trigger warning // sexual violence & rape.
When I phoned my parents, they asked me whether I wanted to report what had happened to me to the police. I was unsure. I didn’t know at the time that you can report something without prosecuting someone.
Naively, I was under the impression that if you reported something to the police, I would be in court in a month. And that terrified me, and I didn’t want that. At the time, like so many other survivors of sexual assault, my biggest fear was that someone would tell me that I was just being dramatic and that I wasn’t assaulted, that I was just making this up. But my parents assured me that there were many steps between reporting something and it turning into a court case. I later found out that prosecution numbers of sexual assault cases are very low in particular too.
So that evening after ringing my parents, I rang the police and they came to my flat. They took a statement and asked me in depth questions about what happened. However, it was unfortunately a very negative experience for me. Throughout the experience I felt very invalidated. They told me I shouldn't expect to be asked for verbal consent before having sex. They told me that in the eyes of the law nothing happened - it was “just an unpleasant experience”. They made me feel so bad that I apologised for wasting their time.
I also tried to report what had happened to the university. They had a similar response to the police and told me there was not enough evidence to find anyone guilty because it was his word against mine.
After both these experiences, like so many other survivors, I had to persuade myself again that what happened to me was not my fault and that I was not to blame or to feel guilty for what happened.
If I could give anyone any word of advice for reporting sexual assault to the police or any institution I would offer them this advice:
The decision to report a case of rape or sexual assault is completely yours. Do not let anyone tell you what you “should” do. At the end of the day, you know yourself best and so do what is best for you, not what others think will be best for you. It is your choice whether to report what has happened to you.
There are charities available that offer free legal advice and support for the entire reporting and prosecution process. I found out about this after my experience and with hindsight I think I could have really benefited from this.
Do not let the law or any authority invalidate your experience. Sadly, we live in a society where prosecution rates of sexual assault and rape cases are very low. This is a reflection of the system and society, not your experience or your character. Your truth is your truth.
If you feel comfortable, try and have a friend or a person you trust with you when reporting an incident to the police. With the benefit of hindsight, I think this would have helped me, because I know I felt very vulnerable at the time, and I think having a friend there would have made the experience easier for me.
This article was intended as part of a series of blog posts in collaboration with our GINA volunteers on the themes of the BBC docuseries ‘I May Destroy You’ around survivorship and sexual assault, and whether these themes can be seen in our realities.